Saturday, February 23, 2013

The silver linings of an Abbott Government ... desperate thoughts in difficult times

Warning: may irritate some ALP voters I like on Twitter. Hopefully not, but possibly.

So it's come to this.

When the soothingly thoughtful and intelligent Waleed Aly becomes the focus of criticism from ALP apologists it's time to check the blinkers.

Remember the good old days of protesting bad government
policy without fear of giving the opposition a free kick?

Aly wrote what was, in my opinion, a fantastic piece (and to be fair, it seems there was far more praise than criticism) discussing the real problems Labor face - you know, those that actually underlie the bad polls and infighting. It wasn't the policy analysis we need, but it was a broad look at ALP policy and ideology and, despite the usually measured Bernard Keane attacking him, summarising it as "Waleed Aly joining Fairfax's new 'all leadership speculation, all the time' format," the 'L' word was only used once and to actually make a point of stating that the issues he was addressing were "not about incompetent leadership".

Yet the reaction from many people on Twitter was an elbow-jerk finger pointing at the Coalition, or to take up Aly's overarching theme of narrative, which some are now pushing as a dismissive running joke, to avoid what he was really talking about.

The defensiveness was cringeworthy as rusted on some rusted on ALP voters could not even for a minute take a moment to accept this may be a legitimate arguement and that perhaps there is something wrong with the party.

Apparently it's all about mainstream media hatred of Julia Gillard and the ALP. Reality check - The ALP stink. Just not quite as bad as the other lot. But that's no reason to defend them.

The progressive party we need, or the one we deserve?

They deserve to, and must, be called on it if they are going to be the progressive party we actually deserve. Or maybe they are the progressive party we deserve, but they are not the one we need right now - though I hate to compare my beloved Batman with them, they're more like Two-Face at the moment.

We need a major progressive party that treats asylum seekers with dignity, affords them basic human rights and doesn't use them as a political football. One that listens to Indigenous communities rather than continuing oppressive Howard-era policies that aren't working. One that keeps its commitment to stand up to the gaming industry and deliver real reform, like they did the tobacco industry. One that doesn't dance along to the conservative tune of 'surplus, surplus, surplus whatever it takes', because we know that's not a healthy or realistic attitude (and, jeebus, why not use reality against the Coalition??). One that treats all people equally, especially when it's what the majority of the people and that party want.

Yes, they have done some very good things in the past three years and performed quite well in some difficult circumstances, and no person or party or government is perfect, but there is so much to abhore about this lot right now, in their policy and how the conduct themselves. Even one of the Prime Minister's most memorable moments, that misogyny speech, came while the government cut welfare to single parents (many being women).

Warranted as some of it has been, much of the angry criticism of the mainstream media's trivial obsession with polls and leadership over policy seems to have itself become a trivial obsession with being the victim and taking a 'whatever it takes' approach to beating Tony Abbott rather than thinking broadly about policy.

Which leads me to my other moment of utter disillusionment with the media, politicians and punters who pretend to want to discuss issues over party politics. On Tuesday it was (minimally) reported that children in detention - in the care of our government - as young as nine years old have been self-harming.

A nine-year old overdosed on painkillers, saying he was "going crazy", a ten year old cut his forearms, a 17 year old tried to hang himself. And 23 other cases between August 2010 and November 2011.

This is outrageous and surely a perfect opportunity for a biased media to sink the boot in? Yet there was much silence from the mainstream media and party aligned tweeters alike. Perhaps because both sides are culpable and the media has played a major role in perpetrating disgraceful myths and perceptions. But it is the government that is ultimately responsible for their wellbeing. And all the while, some people who have been most vocally banging on about #Ashbygate and the media's silence and unfair treatment, themselves had nothing to say about children self-harming in detention. Didn't suit the politics.

In the end many calls of bias from all sides aren't calls for better quality journalism or neutrality, but demands for a their team to be given a "fairer run". Like using the free kick count in an AFL match to judge the quality of umpiring, it wholly dismisses the reality of events, and the actions, values and discipline of either side.

And now with bickering between the ALP and the Greens and everything turning to shit I begin to wonder ... is an ALP loss- even a little whalloping - perhaps what we need? I find myself starting to think of the benefits of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, perhaps out of sheer necessity. Maybe a term - just one if possible - of Prime Minister Abbott would actually be good for us in the long-run. Maybe?

Silver linings of ... PM Abbott  (*shudder*)

I've only in the past week resigned myself to the fact the Coalition will likely win. And I'm not comfortable with it. But there are opportunities there, friends! We progressives could properly rally around a common enemy and do what we do best without feeling the need to defend a less-than-perfect government - protest! Yes there would be bad outcomes, but maybe it would offer an opportunity to refocus on drawing attention to our issues like our appalling human rights record of the last decade without holding back for fear of handing the opposition a free point (because they are so much better, right?!) and really, truly, deeply talk about issues again. Wasn't it more fun when we all hated Prime Minister Howard??

I desperately want the ALP to be better than what it is. I want to want to vote for them - well preference them, Adam Bandt will likely get my primary vote - not just put them down as the least bad option. My sense of Aly's piece was that he feels the same. I wasn't a kicking for the sake of it, it was an plea for better progressive representatives. I think he, like me, wants to be able to choose a party to govern that inspires, not the lesser evil. Not that I can speak on his behalf.

Frankly, the ALP deserve to be beaten in the election. They are not a party I want running my country. The problem we have, of course, is that the alternative is fundamentally evil. For the first time I understand people who don't wish to vote. "If you don't vote you can't complain about the elected government," they say. Well sure you can if you think both options suck. (This is not an argument against our system of compulsory attendance, which I love).

Waleed Aly hit many nails on their heads. I don't want to see Prime Minister Abbott; I could live with Prime Minister Turnbull if the party reflected his views rather than vice-versa, but that won't happen;but I don't particularly want to see this government limp on into another term the way it's going and with policies I can't accept. Perhaps we'll be better off in the long run if they cop a harsh lesson and come out a better party. I'm sure it will just lead to more infighting, recriminations, speculations, deals and revenge though.

If the Coalition win without control of the Senate hopefully Abbott's inane blood pledge to repeal the price on carbon will begin his unraveling  from day one. It's the kind of easy story the media love, the public don't hate it anymore and I can't see a Double Dissolution helping him in any way in such circumstances.

What we need is to get back to be able to talk about ideas and issues in a way that is not constrained by which party you support. It's just as important to hold the party you support to account publicly.

But if you treat this like sport - as many of us constantly criticise the media for doing - and merely fight the 'other team', if you're response to any criticism of your side of politics is "but what about them?!", you're missing the point and holding back the progressive cause.

Some ALP voters need to take a cold shower, focus less on crying out for critique of Tony Abbott - it will come - and realise that the ALP really do need to be much better as a party and progressives. And hey, that might just turn things around.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Why / how are you single?!"

I'm a 30 year old middle class white male. Take away the unseen mental health issues and, really, I have nothing for society to pin me down on – except that I'm single.

I mean long-term single. Last time I was in a serious relationship John Howard was PM. I've yet to enjoy regular sex in a liberated Australia.

We are a misunderstood group, us happy singles. Yes, “happy singles”! So many people don’t seem to realise the two words can even go together. Society doesn’t just pin us down, but beats us repeatedly across the face with expectations that we take every opportunity to get out there and find a partner – just find somebody!

A work colleague today asked if I was going out tonight. When I said no, he asked, “But you’re single right?”

Well yeah, but also I can’t be fucked going out tonight to make awkward small talk (we’ve covered this, yeah?) and try to pick up. I have better things to do. And I don’t even know what they are yet, but they don’t involve leaving the house. 

So I’d like to wish all my single friends a happy Valentines Day.

The rest of you can get fucked – indeed many of you will, so don’t take it to heart.

Don’t get me wrong, I do want to be in a serious relationship again – sooner rather than later preferably. But I’ve learnt a lot in my five years of singledom, which has been peppered with all kinds of – if not regular – dates and dalliances. Most importantly, I learnt I had to want to be in a relationship rather than need to be in one. That took a while. I spent many years seeing it as some kind of panacea to my mental health issues, which was harmful to potential relationships and prevented me helping myself for too long.

That whole “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else” thing always seemed like pithy, clich├ęd bullshit to me. Why couldn’t I love someone else while hating myself? It makes perfect sense if I see most people as better than me, right?! Well sure, but it’ll destroy a relationship.

I’ve focused the last couple of years on exploring my own happiness (not a euphemism) and passions. And, despite increasing concern of friends looking to set me up, I really have never been happier. Truly. After all, during my six-year relationship I was horribly anxious and depressed (not because of her!).

Relationships and love amazing, wonderful, energising things. But I refuse to be desperate for it – it’s not conducive to happiness, it’s unattractive and it’s counter-productive, and each of these things feed into each other.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has expressed bemusement at my ongoing sabbatical I could buy roses (at Valentines prices) for ALL the women today – I’m not blowing smoke up my own arse, but I am a catch ladies.

It’s a well intentioned, heartfelt and flattering sentiment, and yes I do appreciate friends keeping an eye out for a potential mate, but I do get a little tired of them being far more stressed about it than I am. It’s a little presumptuous and dismissive of my mindset, not to mention the fact someone can find happiness in a different way to you.

Marriage is held up as this ultimate goal of life, yet so many people are unhappy. And yes, I would like to get married – sorry, no, I would like to be with someone I want to marry. But it often just plays into another one of these all-consuming social expectations of what relationships are.

If and when I get married, I won’t buy into this “better half” bullshit. The most functional couple I know are two fully independent individuals choosing to spend the most important aspects of their life together. Outside observers have expressed curiosity to me that it is "a bit odd", and bemusement that they would spend regular nights out apart, even travel separately. Well apart from what the fuck business is it of yours anyway, why should a couple be tethered and tied. If you want to do the same thing, fantastic; if you don’t and drag each other around you just fuel frustration. Maintaining individual identity and passions is so important in my opinion; otherwise you lose what attracted you to each other in the first place.

I won’t succumb to the expectations of others when I know what makes me happy - I've spent the best part of 30 years figuring it out and it ain't been easy, so I deserve a little self-determination, thanks.

If I have a problem in this area aside from my sometimes crippling introversion, it is that I know exactly what I'm after. I've felt it – fleetingly – before. I’ve felt that amazing feeling of somebody who just understands you in an absurd way and challenges you and inspires you. It’s a blessing and a curse. I struggle to commit myself to any relationship that doesn’t meet that benchmark.

But I’m happy with my life as it is at the moment. Happier than a lot of people who today are sending flowers, going out for romantic dinners and writing on each others Facebook walls; not as happy as some of the genuine couples doing things their way – the ones I admire, and, I admit, do get a little bit jealous of sometimes.

What matters is I have lots to keep me occupied, interested in and excited by life at the moment, including a wide group of great – close friends who are male and female, single and attached, who are my inspiration, my support, my entertainment, my reason to live. They can’t give me everything a relationship would, but they come pretty close.

Happy Valentines Day to them. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Meeting Tweeple People - Attending my first "Wonk drinks"

“I did something a little out-there and weird on Fridaynight,” I admitted to a friend on Sunday during a round of golf. “I met up witha bunch of people from Twitter for drinks.”

“That is weird,” he agreed.

“What the fuck?” Iretorted … silently (body language is 55% of communication).

It’s not weird. I only said it was to be self-deprecating anddemonstrate my insecurity and lead you into reaffirming validation that I’ddone something cool. You oblivious arsehole!*

Rewind a week or two. I’ve heard about ‘Wonk Drinks’. I don’treally know what it means but I know some interesting people I follow onTwitter, some who are even kind enough to regularly interact with me, mayattend. I think it’s based around politics. I think, given I’m all aboutpushing my comfort zone and getting out there (sometimes) perhaps I should liketo go along. So I tweet this thought, hoping someone will encourage me to go(validation). This happens. Hooray, I will ‘know’ TWO people attending.

The saying goes that Twitter is where you meet people youwant to have a drink with, and Facebook is the place you know people you want tothrow a drink at. I am finally going to properly test this theory. Welltechnically I have, and the first part passes because I’m going to a drinksevent; I am yet to throw a drink at a Facebook friend but just give me the chance…

People at work on Friday ask my weekend plans; I say nothingof the wonks the same way nobody used to talk about online dating. Plus beingbased around politics adds another level of social judgement.

I look up thedefinition of ‘wonk’. I am immediately intimidated. What have I gotten in for.Better do some reading. I don’t.

Friday 5pm rolls around and I consider my strategy. Meetingpeople is scary. A socially awkward introvert by nature, this will not bewithin my comfort zone. Hell that’s partly why I use Twitter to engage withpeople, so why am I even doing this?!

Meeting people is dangerous. The initial liberating,unshackled obscurity of not really knowing your followers, which allowsrelatively unrestrained truth – one of the great joys of Twitter – would likelybe reined in a little further. Necessarily constructed and scarcely informed illusionsof who these people are in my mind will be shattered by reality.  If these are terrible people I will leave andstart a new Twitter account in the morning. But I am still excited to go, or atleast excited to have been. And Ishould go, it’s good for me to push my boundaries.

So my strategy. Well it starts at 6pm and I figure I havetwo options – safely  early or safelylate. There is no ‘safely on time’. Early means a good half hour ahead of time,with a book to read and hoping the first attendees realise what I’m there forand take me under their wing. Assuming they are nice people, it’s an easy in.It also gives time to warm up (drink down). But I don’t know the pub set up orwhere they’ll congregate.

Late means ensuring I arrive after my known ‘tweeps’ –possibly leaving at least one of them out to dry for my own security – to ensureI have a  conversational entry point. Ihate small talk and can never think of anything to say and will likely standacross the room against the wall with a beer in one hand, pretending to use thephone with the other, figuring out how to get amongst the group in the leastembarrassing way. So really I should challenge myself and arrive on time, but Ireally don’t wanna look like a dick.

On the tram at I check the #melbwonkdrinks hash tag for anyactivity, particularly from my tweeps. It’s on. One of my friends is there, theother on the way in, just ahead of me I think. As the tram pulls up at PigdonStreet I look up and am surprised to find it has arrived at Pigdon Street, andrush towards the rear door where a man is disembarking. He looks over hisshoulder at me and I try to look like I’m not stalking him.

He looks familiar. Could he be Ross? I’ve only seen an old thumbnailpic of this guy and I don’t wanna look like a dick so I leave my earphones inand we stand in the middle of the road waiting to cross east from the tramstop. I think he’s wondering what I’m wondering. We walk towards the pub. Okay,this is probably him so … I walk ahead to save the awkwardness, especially ifwe wind up tweeting at each other.

I cross to the north side of the road and look back to seehim on his phone. A minute later my Twitter friend Ross has tweeted at me andour mutual friend Steph that he thinks he and I were standing next to eachother at the lights, both too embarrassed to ask. I look up and wait for him tocome to my side of the road and meet my first Tweep in real life.

Not weird at all!

And! Now I am entering with a friend; I have a wing man! Weenter and Steph recognises us. Wow, thank God.

We have a lovely chat that barely touches on politics earlyon. Then I meet others; some I follow, some I don’t – none follow me. Not thatthis matters, for here we are real people! And rarely do we all avoid Twitterfor so long at the same time! Many are not really what I imagined, because whatI imagined wasn’t real – especially for those without facial images online. Iwonder what those who did know of me are thinking now, compared to how I comeacross online. I should ask, but I don’t really think to.

Some of these people truly know their shit. I will notdebate these people. I will offer opinions and listen intently to a range offascinating conversations, and possibly look like a fence-sitter but I amtaking it all in, mulling it over. I could just listen while sipping on my pintall night. Such an interesting collection of “strangers”; how else does thishappen these days but for something like Twitter?

Meeting people is easy. 

Maybe not normal orusual, but it’s pretty natural,people socialising with other people around a common interest. You might evencall it healthy. Sure beats sitting alone at home glued to Masterchef.

*He’s not an arsehole, this is dramatic effect.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book review - "A Decision to Discriminate: Aboriginal Disempowerment in the Northern Territory"

Over the Australia Day long weekend I read and reviewed A Decision to Discriminate: Aboriginal Disempowerment in the Northern Territory, for Right Now.

The book which discusses the consultation process undertaken by the Federal Government in Aboriginal communities ahead of introducing it's Stronger Futures legislation and paints pretty appalling and disenchanting picture.

It won't be an election issue, but while our politicians engage in petty stunts for media attention, everyone is ignoring some of the most disadvantaged and disempowered people in our country.

"A Decision to Discriminate: Aboriginal Disempowerment in the Northern Territory"

Almost 70 years ago Albert Camus wrote that “goodwill can cause almost as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened” -  a sentiment it seems that could well apply to the Australian government’s approach to Indigenous affairs.

Reading A Decision to Discriminate: Aboriginal Disempowerment in the Northern Territory, published by Concerned Australians, leaves you with the troubling impression that the Gillard Government’s Stronger Futures legislation – which followed on from the Howard Government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) and drifted quietly through Parliament in early 2012 – was at worst a continuation of arrogant and destructive disempowerment, and at best an act of wilful naivety in what is deemed by government and media to be an issue of minimal importance.